The air traffic control tower at Felts Field will not be closed by budget cuts but will remain open through September, the U.S. Department of Transportation said Friday.
The department has enough money from emergency legislation passed recently by Congress to keep Felts and 148 other towers at smaller airports, including Lewiston, open, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
The Reducing Flight Delays Act, approved to avoid slowdowns caused by the sequester at some of the nation’s largest airports, had enough money left over to maintain staffing at Felts and other “contract towers” that were scheduled to close in June.
The announcement drew cheers from the congressional delegations in Washington and Idaho.
“This is great news for Spokane and the region because having Felts Field always manned will help give us the resources we need to coordinate between Spokane, Fairchild and Felts Field to make sure that air traffic can continue to grow in the region,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Friday in a prepared statement.
Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, Idaho Republicans, said they thought the Federal Aviation Administration had enough money to keep airports fully staffed and running but supported the legislation that made it clear the agency had the flexibility to move money around within its budget.
“It is unfortunate they initially took a different approach and caused community leaders in Idaho unnecessary headaches until Congress stepped in,” Crapo and Risch said in a news release.
Lawrence Krauter, chief executive officer of Spokane Airports, which operates Felts as well as Spokane International, said the announcement meets the immediate goal of keeping Felts open through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. But the FAA needs to find a long-term funding solution to keep the towers open next year.
Earlier this year, Spokane Airports filed suit in an effort to preserve Felts and other contract towers. Krauter said the airport will review the details of the FAA’s decision to keep the towers open and talk with its lawyers and the other 40 airports who joined the challenge before deciding what to do regarding the lawsuit.